It’s true. PR people are often called “apologists.” I don’t bristle at that description, because apologizing and getting it right is a crucial skill set for today’s crisis manager.
Apologies are hard to do — they are humbling, irritating and often required during periods of high emotional pressure and agitation. I promise, we live in a very forgiving world, people want to forgive you. A solid apology allows that.
For public figures apologies may affect your image, your career options and of course your income, and I have always believed that our reputations are the most valuable things we own.
As we just saw with Kevin Hart and the Oscars, a botched apology can lose you a dream job if handled badly.
Don’t let the anger get the best of you. Get in touch with your most rational self, and get a team together to help you. We all need people with perspective around us. My advice is always to, ’Do it once, and do it well.’
Here is what I have learned over the last 40 years:
1. An apology does not mean you are 100% wrong. In fact, you may even be less than 50% wrong, but you need to get over that because an apology means:
2. You’re committed to moving forward; you’re committed to moving through and beyond whatever reputational quicksand you find yourself sinking in.
3. To do that you need to take 100% of the responsibility — maybe more.
4. You cannot equivocate, even a little bit. Ask Paula Deen and Lance Armstrong how that worked for them.
5. Say the words, “I’m sorry.” Words matter. These are two of the most powerful words in the English language.
6. Address the apology to everyone who was offended, be it a person or a community, and always apologize to your fans. Don’t leave anyone out. You don’t get to decide what’s offensive to other people, they get to decide for themselves. And with social media, they have avenues to make their displeasure known.
7. As Conrad Birdie sang, “You Gotta Be Sincere.” People can smell insincerity amazingly well. Maybe put a shirt on and get out of bed to do it? Just saying.
8. Promise it won’t happen again and mean it. These kinds of mistakes are too painful, expensive and time-consuming to repeat.
9. Consider making amends — it could involve a PSA for the aggrieved, a visit to an organization to hear from people who were hurt by your words, even a donation. Tracy Morgan did a textbook job after making a gay slur at a comedy club. His problem went away. And if you really want to get schmaltzy and go into bonus territory, you can thank the offended for calling attention to your unacceptable behavior and creating this beautiful ‘Teachable moment.’
10. Oprah said that the worst thing that can happen to a person is public humiliation. The second worst is not moving past it.
Howard Bragman is a longtime PR strategist, crisis manager and professional apologist.